What we learned
'It’s easy to forget that all the extraordinary has its roots in the ordinary' – Sally Tonge
Summary of learning
- The long-term impact of the project is the learning and inspiration that has been gained: by the lead organisations, our community, cultural and care partners and the creative practitioners and individual older participants. Through the project, existing partnerships have enhanced their working relationships and new partnerships have evolved with social housing providers, older people and diversity focussed community initiatives, health and social care providers, and between artists…and with participants.
- Although the pandemic interrupted some aspects of the new partnership developments, as we learn to live with Covid there is commitment from all parties to revisit how we can continue to work together to improve cultural and creative opportunities for older people.
- A significant aspect of our project has been capacity building at a local level: supporting our artists and partners to develop understanding, expertise, and trial new approaches in the field of arts and older people. CPD, supported by mentoring and skill sharing offered to the artists, and opportunities for co-producing with our partners and participants has proved fruitful.
- We have had opportunity to trial one-to-one activity and better understand the enormous potential of providing one-to-one mentoring to older creatives, as well as the inclusion of intergenerational activities as part of a wider arts and older people offer.
- From the outset we intended to recruit artists who had specialist knowledge relevant to the project, artform and inclusive practice. If they didn’t have significant experience of working with older people we looked for personal experience of ageing or of supporting older friends or family. This proved crucial, ensuring insight but avoiding stereotyped assumptions.
- We wanted to be ambitious and explore more than what might be considered the typical care home activity offer. We involved older people of all ages, from 55 to 100+ years, building in a breadth of creative opportunities, participants and settings, which in turn afforded a breadth of creative outcomes and learning – shared between all parties.
- We needed to make sure the opportunities for participants, hosts, and artists were relevant and inclusive, so we involved host organisations, artists and older people in devising the programme and bespoke projects, and this afforded a dynamic co-produced offer that had capacity to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arose. The trust that we placed in our artists’ expertise and capacity to collaborate, to share learning and inspiration proved invaluable, shaping the programme as it developed and informing future ambitions.
- Initially we had assumed that most of the artist led sessions would be long-form residencies. However, following the initial taster programme in phase one, we recognised that shorter bursts of activity running over 6 or 7 weeks, tended to work better, both for the participants and for the artists’ creative approaches. There were some exceptions to this, and with the impact of the pandemic we strove to maintain some ongoing regular activities for the sake of the isolated participants, as well as introducing a degree of one-to-one sessions. Where there has been regular longer-term input we strove to build in creative progression for those involved.
- Building in opportunities to support professional development for artists and partners was crucial, enhancing insight and understanding and providing routes for skills and knowledge sharing.
- Use of virtual tools and platforms was well trialled by artists and participants, so we can apply this learning to our future ambitions to up-skill and equip older people who do not have online access.
- We did not see significant change in behaviours of and within care home settings in relation to how artists work in those settings. The pandemic negated the opportunity to progress this consideration further. Whilst affecting change in this context had not been a stated ambition of the project, we believe there is more work to do, to demonstrate the potential positive impact of arts in care homes, for both the benefit of the residents, and the artists who are committed to working in this field. To date, of the care homes we have worked with, those open to artists have remained so, whilst others have found it more difficult to host creative sessions. This isn’t a criticism of those settings, but rather, an acknowledgement that demonstrating impact and value to decision makers, and managing change on the ground, particularly following a pandemic, is a long-term consideration that requires resources that are hard won. We are now considering how, in the immediate and longer-term future, we can work more effectively with our partners to continue to develop the Creative Conversations offer for residents in care settings.
- The project has been a catalyst for new developments and investment - a direct result of learning gained and implemented. Four of the CC artists and at least two arts organisations involved in the project progressed funding bids to develop their practice and/or older peoples’ arts programme based directly on their experience of working on the project. These developments have achieved and supported R&D, a continuation of collaboration between artists, animation production funding, a digital access pilot with social housing providers and local authority, and enhancement of community-led dementia services.